Dani Shapiro
February 22, 2007

Balancing Act

Lately I keep hearing women talking about their lives as balancing acts — as if daily life is a tightrope and the only way to avoid falling is to keep moving carefully forward — never looking down. An attorney friend whose firm is expanding at a rapid rate gave a Bingo party last night for a bunch of second graders and their parents, complete with two different kinds of chili (the batch I tasted was quite delicious, attributed to a recipe by Al Roker) and presented a thoughtful assortment of prizes (everyone got a prize, Bingo or not) including confetti bubble bath, soccer and basketball pillows, and a Bush-bashing book, especially for my husband. She had gone everywhere from the local toy store to Target in search of the excellent party favors, had made the chili, and the kid food (mac and cheese, pizza, bowls of healthy crudite) set the table. She was still in her work clothes. As we were leaving, she headed upstairs to check on her daughter’s friend who decided to sleep over at the last minute. Having only recently entered the land of sleepovers myself, I imagine that the night was long and perhaps sleep interrupted — or at the very least, today started very early, with crack-of-dawn pancakes. As I watched her recede up the stairs, I thought of Alison Pearson’s hilarious novel of a couple of years ago: I Don’t Know How She Does It. Everybody’s trying to do so much, and that’s it, the whole answer — there’s nothing to do but to try.

Balancing act, juggling act, tightrope — it makes me again think of Leslie Bennetts’ upcoming book, The Feminine Mistake — in which she writes about the myth of “having it all” and the pity that the phrase became so associated with feminism. There is, of course, no such thing as having it all. There is work, family, romance, health, fitness, sleep, solitude, spiritual life (whatever that means). There is reading for pleasure, travel, the absolute luxury of free time — such a luxury that many of us have no idea what to do with it when we have it. Every day, something wins out, which means something else is lost, or at the very least put on hold.

Today I am taking care of the business of writing, which means that I am not in fact writing. I have a teacher-parent conference at my son’s school. He has a swimming lesson later this afternoon, which may or may not be canceled on account of snow that may or may not start to fall. Which means I may or may not unroll my mat to do my yoga practice, which is one of the things (aside from writing) that keeps me on an even keel. Tonight, another school function. And this isn’t a whine, or a complaint, or a rant — at least I hope it doesn’t sound that way. I’m grateful for it all, the mothering, the writing, even the business of writing. And I’m aware — always aware in this sort of neurotic, Jewish, fishwifey way instilled in me by generations of worriers — that it could be otherwise. The phone could ring. Someone could be sick, or worse. The possibility of bad news is always on the other side of the rich, sometimes annoying, sometimes exhausting dailiness of life — I think that’s what helps me to understand (that is, when I’m feeling even remotely centered after a day or writing and yoga) that it’s all a blessing, not in a dumb Pollyanna way but it simply, truly is. And which is why, last night, watching the attorney-mom slowly make her way up that staircase — knowing what was ahead of her (the dirty dishes, the chaos left behind by masses of children, her daughter’s sleepover, her bulging briefcase, her buzzing Blackberry) — it looked to me like the happiest scene possible.